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What a New PLA Promotion Says About Xi Jinping's Military Control

 
 

On October 2, Zhang Shengmin, the anti-graft chief of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA), was promoted from lieutenant general to general, the highest rank for military officers on active service in China.

Eight days ago, Zhang, 60, was just appointed to become a member of the Central Military Commission (CMC) — the highest organ that controls the PLA.

China’s state TV station CCTV broadcast the promotion ceremony, which took place at the CMC headquarters in Beijing, during its primetime news program. At the ceremony, Chinese President Xi Jinping, who also holds the positions of chairman of the CMC and general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee, presented Zhang with a certificate of command.

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On October 25, one day after the close of the CCP’s 19th National Congress, the Chinese authorities announced the new CMC leadership. One of the most significant changes is that the number of at-large CMC members has been decreased from eight to four. Thus, now there are only a total of seven people in the CMC: Chairman Xi, two vice chairmen, and four other members. Many Chinese analysts believed that the shrinking CMC can help Xi further consolidate his control on the PLA, as less people in the CMC are able to share his power.

It’s noteworthy that, at Zhang’s promotion ceremony, while all the other CMC members were also sitting at the front of the conference room next to Xi, none of these members’ names were mentioned by CCTV — another signal of Xi’s absolute authority over the CMC.

In addition, among the four other members of the CMC, three people — including Zhang — have entered the body for the first time. Zhang’s rank was also the lowest before his latest promotion, with all the other CMC members having already been generals for a while. Zhang currently holds the position of secretary of the CMC Discipline Inspection Commission. His elevation to the CMC as well as his immediate promotion to general means that the anti-graft campaign, which was launched by Xi across the whole nation, will keep sweeping the PLA.  

Since Xi came into office in 2012, more than 100 senior officers at the rank of major general or higher — including Xu Caihou and Guo Boxiong, former vice-chairmen of the CMC — were convicted of corruption or other misconduct under the anti-graft campaign, according to People’s Daily.

As for Zhang himself, he actually has enjoyed a “rocket-style promotion” in the PLA since Xi launched the military reform in 2015. In 2015, he was promoted to the political commissar of the CMC Training and Management Department. In 2016, he was transferred to a more important department — the CMC Logistic Support Department — as the political commissar. And in less than one year, he was promoted as the head of the CMC Discipline Inspection Commission around February 2017.

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